Tornado Kills One in Minnesota

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. (AP) — Mayor Dave Smiglewski was on his way to pick up pizza for his family when a white funnel materialized from the west in a swirling cloud of debris.

The tornado snaked up a 12-block path, killing one man and injuring about 14 people while tearing up some 300 to 350 homes in its wake. As many as five funnel clouds were spotted at one time.

``It was gut-wrenching, sickening to see,'' Smiglewski said.

Authorities planned to focus on removing debris from this southwestern Minnesota town Wednesday and survey the area by air to get a better picture of what happened, said Richard Blackwelder, a Yellow Medicine County deputy.

Blackwelder confirmed the fatality, but said relatives were still being notified and details were not released. Neighbors said he was an elderly man who was found under his pickup truck.

Fourteen people were treated for cuts and bruises, said George Gerlach, administrator of Granite Falls Municipal Hospital.

As the storm swept in around 6 p.m., 10 people and three dogs crouched in a small bathroom at the SuperAmerica gas station.

``We didn't hear any sirens, nothing. The skies got real dark, real fast,'' cashier Amanda Velde said.

Gov. Jesse Ventura called out the National Guard for security and debris cleanup. Emergency workers went house to house through the disaster area, marking X's on the homes where the safety of the residents could be confirmed.

In many places, there were no houses to mark.

``There's at least a half dozen of them that are gone completely,'' said Paul Krogstad, the city's public works director.

The funnel also toppled portions of a grain elevator complex before whipping trucks around like toys at the nearby United Parcel Service facility.

The weather started turning severe Tuesday afternoon.

``Around midday we got the feeling it wasn't going to be good,'' said Craig Edwards, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. ``There was low-level moisture and winds at about 50 miles per hour at 15,000 feet. That was enough energy to spin up severe thunderstorms that possibly led to the tornadoes.''

City Councilman Odell Rude was golfing when lightning began to flash over this community about 125 miles west of Minneapolis.

``I got off the course and drove up toward town,'' he said. ``I could see insulation pieces — some as big as blankets — falling from the sky. ... The winds had stopped, but things were still falling. It was so eerie.''


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